Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, has been asked to look into issues regarding private screening companies contributing to additional NHS expenses by referring patient queries from their services to their GPs.
In a letter from Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, three main issues were raised:
- The NHS having to deal with the consequences of private tests, essentially, further draining its resources
- The fact that advertising procedures are dealt through the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), which does not hold companies up to the standard of informed consent required by the Montgomery standard
- Bringing forth an evidence-based regulation of the services provided by private clinics, which the CQC does not currently do
In 2015, the case of Montgomery v Lanarkshire Health Boarddrew attention to a patient’s right to informed consent. The Supreme Court ruled that a doctor must inform a patient of any material risks, with materiality defined as whether “a reasonable person in the patient’s position would be likely to attach significance to the risk, or the doctor is or should reasonably be aware that the particular patient would be likely to attach significance to it”. It overturned a ruling made by the House of Lords from the mid 1980s, that a doctors’ conduct need only be consistent with what a responsible body of clinicians would consider appropriate. Interestingly, the General Medical Council (GMC), who intervened during the case, mentioned that this ruling simply enabled UK law to catch up with current GMC guidance.
The letter mentions this case as it argues that in many instances, advertisements companies use do not provide sufficient information to patients about their services, for example, that these services are not provided on the NHS due to their ineffectiveness.
In his response, the Secretary for Health and Social Care recognised the importance of providers giving patients the right information and support. However, he argued that setting additional regulations to bring about changes may not bring about the desired changes. In addition, he stressed that any regulatory changes would need to be processed through Parliament, whose timetable is currently filled up with EU exit legislation.
The full set of communications can be read here.